A Pelican Bay State Prison hunger strike leader is using the legal system to argue he is not one.
Northern Hispanic inmate representative and validated Nuestra Familia member Antonio Guillen is using the California prisoner's due process system - part of which he and three other Pelican Bay inmates have gotten 30,000 fellow prisoners to protest against - in order to erase from his record a rules violation stating he helped lead a mass disturbance.
Guillen has taken it through the mandatory institutional review levels to have it heard by local Judge William Follett through a habeas corpus motion.
Follett reviewed Guillen's initial handwritten petition that was more than 30 pages long and ordered an informal reply that came from the state Attorney General's Office.
Guillen's main arguments are that there was not enough evidence to find him guilty of inciting a mass disturbance, he was denied the assistance of an investigative employee and he was denied his request to call witnesses in his defense.
The rules violation was doled out by a prison investigator in November 2011 following a July 2011 hunger strike that included 6,600 inmates in about a third of the state's 33 prisons. It was the first in a series of hunger strikes led by inmates housed in Pelican Bay's Short Corridor, which holds inmates identified as influential prison gang members.
The prison investigator cited a form sent to prison staff written by Guillen that stated he would be participating in a hunger strike and all questions regarding Northern Hispanic inmates participating in the hunger strike should be directed to him.
The investigator also cited confidential information from lists that were found in other prisoner's cells delineating the leaders of the hunger strikes.
Guillen was given a disciplinary hearing Dec. 28, 2012 in which he was found guilty of the rules violation. In June 2012, he filed an appeal to Pelican Bay's warden. On Aug. 2, 2012, the appeal was denied and then he appealed to the Director of Corrections Office. That appeal was denied last December.
In April Guillen filed a petition with the Del Norte Superior Court.
The informal reply filed by the AG's Office argues that Guillen was not eligible for assistance from an investigative employee because his case did not meet the complexity threshold necessary for one; it described Guillen's case as simple.
Guillen's witness list was denied because it was deemed by his disciplinary hearing officer that the witnesses would not have provided any additional pertinent information.
The AG's reply also reiterated the information provided with the original rules violation.
The levels of appeals within the institution apply not only to rules violations, but also to the validation process that identifies an inmate as a gang member.
Thethree hunger strikes have protested indefinite solitary confinement in Secure Housing Units, as well as a lack of due process rights. Prisoners and advocates would like to see an external oversight committee included in the institutional appeals process.
Once an appeal reaches the third level and is denied, it is then eligible to enter the public court system to have the matter heard by a judge.
Guillen was first validated as an associate of the Nuestra Familia in 1992 before eventually becoming identified as a full-fledged member and leader.
He has never taken his appeal of that validation to the courts to have a judge review it. He stated during past interviews with the Triplicate that it hasn't been as much of a priority as other legal issues he was working on for himself or other people.
He also said that he feels the local court is not as supportive toward inmates and that the only time inmates can get leniency is from certain judges throughout the state.
He said it's difficult for inmates to challenge validations because it can be expensive.
Questioning validations in the public court system also raises the possibility of having an inmate's prison records and violations - usually kept confidential - made public.
Instead of questioning his indefinite detention in solitary confinement through the legal system, Guillen is currently fighting to have a violation based on his leadership in the hunger strike removed from his record so that it can't be considered at a Parole Board hearing.
Guillen is serving a 25 years to life sentence for murder. He is eligible for parole in 2024.
Judge Follett will have until Nov. 24 to make a decision as to whether Pelican Bay properly identified Guillen as a hunger strike leader.
Reach Anthony Skeens at email@example.com.